Lectures and Discourses

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On Dancing

by Rev. William Parks

We carried an item by this forthright Anglican in Issue No. 2 of thePresbyterian Standard, and this piece is from the same volume of "Tracts and Addresses " published in 1861. If Parks' warning was needed then it is more so now when spiritual standards are sinking and frivolity and lightheartedness are a plague in all our lives.

In this first of two parts Parks in his pungent style asks four searching questions of those who engage in "the dancing of modern times."

This article was published in thePresbyterian Standard in two parts: Issue No. 14, April-June 1999 and Issue No. 15, July-September 1999.

A DANCING Christian! What an anomaly! What a compound of hypocrisy and folly! At a ball last night and at church this morning! In the giddy waltz and at the Lord's supper within the short space of a few hours! What! Is this Christianity? Does Christian liberty allow this sudden transition from the gay to the grave? Does it allow it at all? Does it justify indulgence in the pleasures of the world under any circumstances? As a minister of the Christian religion, I distinctly and unhesitatingly say, No. Ah! dancing Christians, either give up your profession or your practice: for be assured, as it is, you are a laughing-stock to infidels and to devils; the one detect your glaring inconsistency, the other chuckle over your delusion.

Haply you think my views are melancholy; but, let me ask, who that knows anything of the terrors of sin – or of the blessings of a Saviour God as taught by the Holy Ghost – could for a moment feel happy in a ballroom, or in frivolous, wordly, 'dancing' company?

Those, andthose alone, who know what "plucking out of the burning " is, will answer this question.

Perhaps some of you fancy you have Scripture to refute me at once, and to warrant your proceedings. Already the saying of Solomon occurs to you – "There is a time to mourn and a time to dance" (Ecc. 3:4); but let me tell you that such dancing as Solomon alludes to is not the dancing of the ballroom – is not the movement taught by an artist is not the figuring in a waltz, or a quadrille, or a polka, or a schottische, learnt with care and exhibited with pride; but the exuberant thankfulness of the heart, for blessings bestowed and grace made manifest. But more of this just now.

I assert that dancing, as it is practised, is sinful. One Scripture alone proves it to be so, viz.: "Do all to the glory of God," for who in adance ever thinks of giving glory to God? Who in a dance ever thinks of God at all? Will it be said – "Oh, this is stretching the cord too tight; would you have us always to be thinking about God? Shall we have no relaxation from serious employments?" Ah! my poor, unenlightened, unconverted, objecting friend! your very objection plainly manifests the state of your heart. You want pastime, do you? And you confess it is a pastime to be relieved of the thoughts of God? You would have some other object occupying your heart's affections, eh? You would occasionally admit "the world," "the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," would you? Alas! you, whoever you are, with such loose ideas of piety and pleasure floating in your head - YOU know nothing of God! YOUare yet amongst the unregenerate and the wicked!

I read this character of the wicked in the tenth Psalm – "God is not in ALL his thoughts" (v.4). The manifest inference from this is that he or she who wilfully practises that which necessarily excludes God from the thoughts, is at present under wrath and condemnation.

But again: Perhaps you will say that it does not necessarily follow that becauseyou dance, you cannot do it to God's glory. (I notice this objection, not because I fancy any one so barefaced as to attempt to maintain that he or she gives glory to God in the dancing of modern times; but because I am determined to let no hypocrite or dissembler escape condemnation in this matter.) In refutation of this objection, I would ask and answer the four following questions, viz.:

1. What sort of company do you meet at dances?

2. For what purpose do you dance?

3. What preparations do you make for the dance?

4. What are your thoughts and feelings after the dance?

In reply to the first question,What sort of company do you meet at dances? I say (and I know it) – the gay – the frivolous – the empty-headed – the vain – the silly – the dissipated, and the dissolute of both man and woman kind; these, in short, whose hearts, souls, and affections are wrapped up in this world and its amusements, its vanities and joys. And I read in my Bible an awful and terrific assertion with regard to connection or association with such parties: "The friendship of the world is enmity against God; whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God!" (Jam. 4:4).

Oh, my young friends! pause over this tremendous declaration – you who have been led away by worldly companions, and induced to rank yourselves, even for a single night, amongst the antagonists of God – and the army of Satan! Think upon your terrific step! In your association with your worldly partners in the dance, you have avowed yourselves the friends of those creatures, and thus the enemies of the living God! May the wrath of that "God, who is a consuming fire," be averted from you! Oh, may you be taken – TORN from "the world," and constrained to see that there is no possibility of keeping friends with Him and it! Does God get glory in the dance, think you?

But I proceed to answer the second question, viz.: "For what purpose do you DANCE? " Is it for health? No; for if you required exercise for health, you would take it in the open air, and not in a close, hot room. Is it to exhibit your joy for God's blessings? No; for if this were your motive, you would choose other company to manifest your joy in than that of a ball or dancing-room. Is it for the purpose of exhilarating your spirits? No; for those in low spirits cannot dance.

But I'll tell you what you dance for. You dance for the purpose of exhibiting your skill, or of letting people observe your fine figure, your graceful movements, or your handsome dress. You dance for SENSE – for mere sensual enjoyment. The real motive may be concealed beneath a very modest appearance; to some it may be altogether unknown; but that it is not for the glory of God you dance, is abundantly evident.

We come to our third question, – "What preparation do you make for the dance? " There are divers articles of dress got together: there are the handsome robe – the flaunting ribbon – the pretty frill the becoming wreath – the satin shoes – the silk stockings – the nice gloves – and that scandal and disgrace to a virtuous woman, the low-bodied dress; all arrayed, and gazed upon long before the time of assembling arrives. And then there is staring in the glass; there are such smiles and smirks, and sometimes courtesies made before the mirror, in order to see how you will look, or what you will be thought of in the ballroom – a sort of rehearsal of the vanity-show that is to take place by-and-by. And at last there are such questions asked of fond mothers, and foolish fathers, and elderly brothers, and antiquated sisters, such inquiries as – Does by dress become me? Do I look nice? Is my hair neat? each and all so betokening the condition of the heart within, that it is impossible to mistake how matters are in that quarter.

Those of the opposite sex are quite as bad – quite as vain-glorious. Young men call to their aid the fashions of the day to clothe them; they spend considerable sums on gay apparel; they bedizen themselves with jewellery to make them more attractive; and often run into the most reckless expenses in gratifying their passion for the dance. In short, the preparation made for the dance tends to anything but "the glory of God:" but in everything to the glory of self – the vanity of the world – "the lust of the eye, and the pride of life"! And the idea of a young man or young woman being a convinced and justified sinner whilst dressing for a dance, is a monstrosity hardly with a parallel in Bedlam!

One other question remains to be answered, viz.: "What are your feelings and thoughts AFTER the dance? " Are they such as you might fancy those of a Christian to be who was about to retire for the night? Are they placid – calm unruffled – holy? Are they fixed upon God, and occupied in communion with God? Has the veil of night shut out all objects from view but God and Christ and the Holy Ghost? Ah, no! I know it well. The feelings are excited the pulse beats quick – the brain throbs! The world has just had its revel in the heart, and all is crazed, confused, and revolutionised! There is the remembrance of the glaring lights the many figures – the various groups – the complicated motions – the winning smile – the agreeable 'small talk' the flattering compliment – all floating in the head, all glorifying SELF; but not a thought – not a feeling enlisted on the side of God! No! no relish for prayer – no prostration of spirit before the Throne – not a knee bent (except in formalism, or mockery, or delusion); not a sincere breath of praise wafted on high by any soul engaged in the dance!

And, oh! tell me, how can such amusement be innocent? How can any practice tending to such omission and commission be countenanced, much less encouraged, by any converted child of God or minister of God? Surely the whole proceeding, from first to last, has the stamp of Satan upon it, the arch-antagonist of God and of Christ! Yes, I unhesitatingly declare that the ball and thedance, their consequences and concomitants, are devices and amusements of the Devil, by which he effects his purposes against many thousands of his wretched and incredulous victims!

I should like to ask the fashionable young devotee of the ballroom such a question as the following: "When your presence graces the gay circle, when one of earth's fair daughters hangs upon your arm, or you whirl through the maze of worldly loungers, or sink back exhausted on the voluptuous couch, or wander forth in the cool passages to calm your excited mind, how could you then give an account of your stewardship? Were Christ to speak to you there, could you answer Him? Were death to summon you, could you calmly follow him from the ballroom to the grave – from the worldling's gaze to the presence of your Maker?"

Awful, terrible thought! Yet, believe me, such things have been. Many is the victim who has been launched into eternity whilst his heart has been throbbing with delight in worship of what God has cursed!

I shall now proceed to notice a few common-place and very ignorant attempts at argument in justification of the practice of dancing.

It has been asserted that "we haveScripture examples to warrant our engaging in the DANCE." The Devil (as somebody has quaintly said) never goes out without his Bible under his arm! Satan has Scripture at his fingers' ends; but he sometimes mutilates and mangles it; – and with the blessing of heaven, I shall make him just now "burn his fingers" with it. Ah! my dear young friends, let me warn you against the sophistical practice of falling back upon Scripture for examples to justify ungodly and worldly actions! It is by such a practice that the gay and frivolous clergyman justifies himself in his association with "the world." It is the constant plea of such a one, in defence of his inconsistent and demoralising conduct, that Jesus Christ never shrank from dining, and supping, and feasting with the Pharisees and unbelieving Jews; but the deceived and deceiving clergyman thinks proper to forget the purpose and design which Jesus had in view under such circumstances; and that he never failed to teach, to exhort, to rebuke, and to argue with His host and fellow-guests, whoever they were. Jesus Christ never forgot His mission; and, although meek and unobtrusive, He never suffered the rank, the hospitality, or peculiar views or crotchets of any man to interfere with or deter Him from His grand purpose of "doing good," and maintaining truth inviolate. When clergymen or spiritual teachers, who are in the habit of going out to dinner parties and supper parties, and attending soir´┐Żes, do likewise – THEN there may be a parallel between them and their Scripture example; then they will be justified in their proceedings, but not until then.

If those who quote Scripture in support of their adopted errors and sinful courses would but bring submission of mind to the Word of God as a whole, they would soon cease to make such guilty uses of the inspired volume.

But I digress: let me examine the alleged Scripture arguments in favour or justification of dancing. It is said thatDavid danced, and thatMiriam danced, and thatthe daughter of Jephthah danced and that consequently you may dance. Satan, thou art a cruel cheat! – an arch impostor! – a base deceiver! Thou flimsy sophist! I shall expose thy deceptions, in the name of the living God!

It is true, quite true, that David, and Miriam, and Jephthah's daughterdanced ; but let us seewhy they danced, andhow they danced. I read in the second Book of Samuel, and sixth chapter, from the twelfth verse to the end, that David employed himself in bringing the Ark into Zion, and that he was so overjoyed at the successful issue of the work, that he actually flung aside his dignity for a time – forgot himself in a manner – despised appearances, and danced and leaped again before the Lord. It is very evident, from a closer view of the passage, that dancing (at least such movements and conduct as David's) was the practice of "vain fellows," or "lewd fellows of the baser sort " – (for Michal alludes to the fact in sarcastic terms), and that, consequently, it was in no very good repute in those days; but the good David, overflowing with delight and thankfulness for the blessed privilege he was enjoying, cared not whom he resembled, or how despicable he made himself in the eyes of even his regal mistress. He was overpowered by religious joy on this occasion, which broke out in boisterous, ungainly, and even ridiculous movements. But mark you, all this was "before the Lord" (verse 21). And further, he avows his intention of doing so again and again – of even being more ridiculous than ever (verse 22) – of being more contemptible in Michal's, and more vile in his own sight.

David's dancing, then,was a sinking of self – a lowering of the creature, he danced for the sheer purpose of giving glory to God. And mark you, the Bible tells us that when David danced he took off his imperial robe, and clothed himself in a plain linen Ephod. What David put off, young men put on; what David danced for, they never think of.

And now, with this plain and unstrained interpretation of this oftquoted and oft-mutilated passage, will any young man or woman – any young lady or gentleman – have the hardihood to aver that there is a justification here for their dancing? Will any simpering, gentility-aping, vanityhunting member of a ball or a dance, in modern times, be barefaced enough to tell me that he or she has a warrant to dance, because David danced? Is your motive religious joy? Is your design to make yourselves vile, and base, and contemptible in your own sight, or in the sight of others, when you dance? I trow not; so there is an end to any hope or prospect of justification for your practice, from the case of David.

Let me now examine the case of Miriam. Miriam danced, and, therefore (you say), you may dance. Just meditate a moment upon the passage in which the fact of Miriam's dancing is alluded to: – "And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand: and all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (Exod. 15:20,21). Look at it again and again. Do you read that Miriam led off the dance with a handsome young Jew, or a naturalised Egpytian? Is there any mention of male partners, hand and glove with the damsels who followed her? No. Here was a company of godly women praising Jehovah, in the best way they could, for His late wonderful deliverance of them from the power of Pharaoh. The men were otherwise engaged. The women only danced, and danced alone, too.

Now, tell me, whenyou dance, is the name of the Lord upon your lips? Is He influencing your hearts? Is it for the purpose of glorifying Jesus that you dance? Ah! my friends, is it not a fact, that if the word "Jesus" were to escape the lips of any of you, in praise or commendation of Him, in the ball or in the dance, you would be sneered upon as a fool, as a ninny, or as "a cant?" Would not the Name, "which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9), be the signal for mockery? If, during the dance, you were to sing out unto the Lord, and say, "Praise Him in His name JAH " "Praise Him in the dance" – would you not be laughed to scorn? Would not the whole host of fops, fools, and fribbles (partners in the dance) burst out into a shout of immoderate derision, and subsequently whisper it about that you had taken leave of your senses?

If you object, and say, "Oh, there is a time for all things; what have we to do with Jesus in the ball or in the dance?" I reply in the words already quoted, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God ;" and further, the individual who has nothing to do with Jesus in the ball or in the dance,has nothing to do with Him at all, but is in the fearful state of those possessed with devils, whose invariable cry was, "What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" But may the Lord have pity upon such, and cast the devil out of them, so that Jesus may be enthroned instead, and have His name magnified and glorified, in whatsoever company they may be!

There is no parallel, then, between you and Miriam; – no warrant whatever foryour sort of dancing fromher mode. The two are as essentially different, as a loose, immoral song is from a hymn of praise to Jehovah.

Will you consider the case of Jephthah's daughter? She danced, certainly; but then it was the dance of filial love – love which induced her to come and congratulate her father upon his victory over the enemies of God. There is no analogy whatever between this case and the dancing of a modern ball-room. I may express a wish in passing, that daughters who are devoted to the sinful practice of modern dancing, and who are ever ready to seize upon the instance of Jephthah's beloved child's dancing as a warrant for theirs, were as amiable, and dutiful, and religious as she! Suffice it to say, that the dancing noticed in Scripture, from which you profess to take your warrant for the modern practice, was invariably the ebullition (outburst) of religious joy, and was totally different and distinct from modern dancing, and, consequently, can afford you no authority whatever for your present tastes and practices.

I am free to admit there isdancing of another sort than that I have been just noticing, mentioned in Scripture; but then, I take it for granted that you would not for a moment acknowledge you copied from it: I allude to the dancing which accompanied the horrible sin of Idolatry (Exod. 32:6,19), and to the dancing in which "the world," and the profligate amongst the Jews, indulged (Job 20:11; Matt. 14:6,8). You will not confess that you take your warrant for dancing from the voluptuous performances of Herodias's daughter, which evoked the sensual delight of the adulterous monarch of Judea? Nor are you willing to trace back your practice to the libidinous pastimes of the East? So that I see not how the dancers amongst you have a leg to stand upon. I fearlessly assert, that the Scriptures leave you totally unsupported and unequivocally condemned ; and I will maintain this under all circumstances, whether you dance in a palace or in a cottage. Remember, it is written, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. "

I would now notice two or three common-place objections in this connection, and reply to them.

OBJECTION. "People might do a great deal worse than dance."

ANSWER. True, people might be barefaced profligates; but does the possibility of deeper degradation warrantany degradation? If dancing is sinful, objectors do a great deal worse than dance, for theylessen the sin orextenuate it.

OBJECTION. "But Solomon has said – 'There is a time to dance.'"

ANSWER. Dancing here and elsewhere in Scripture is put as a general expression for joy and gladness. "Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing " (Psa. 30:18) exclaimed the Psalmist, evidently meaning joy of heart, not physical play of the limbs.

OBJECTION. "It is better to dance than to join a coterie in scandalising one's neighbours."

ANSWER. This is begging the question. We have no right to do either. The gossip and the dancer are on a par. I am certain that much unprofitable and sinful conversation takes place amongst religious professors; but surely a man is not justified in sinning because he knows of the existence of hypocrites, or of the abuse of privileges.

OBJECTION. "Young peoplewill dance, and to prevent them going to objectionable places to learn, it is better to countenance the thing, and provide them with the means of learning in a quiet way."

ANSWER. This is advocating the principle that we may "do evil that good may come;" a maxim abhorrent to the Apostle Paul, and which ought to be repudiated by all moralists, though they never made a profession of the Christian religion.

By this time, I fear, I have quite tired my readers; but I must say two or three words more.

You who feel yourselves condemned, will of course come to the conclusion, that my religion extinguishes all amusement; but you wrong me. My religion teaches me to give up "the world," with its "pomps and vanities, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh." My religion teaches me to avoid the ballroom, the concert-room, and the theatre. My religion teaches me that if I do aught over which I cannot ask God's blessing, it is SIN it is forbidden! My religion teaches me, that "the world's" practices and God's requirements are totally at variance; – that it is impossible to "serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24). I thank God for having enabled me to come out from "the world." I never do mix, and I hope I never shall associate, with any but decided Christians. My hopes, my desires, my longings, are all centred in Christ and though I feel and know that I am a "miserable sinner," I have the happiness to possess Scriptural evidence of my call of God. Yea, I am convinced that no-one can have sound and satisfactory reason to believe in his or her personal interest in Christ's atonement, until such repudiation of "the world," its joys, and its amusements, has been accomplished; – not, mind you, by self-power, but bysupernatural power. Yet, notwithstanding all, I feel that I am not debarred from innocent games and harmless amusements, and that I am not compelled to be of a sorrowful countenance. Those games and amusements are, however, few. Modern dancing is most indubitably not one of them; neither is any pastime which brings the opposite sexes into too close contact reckoned amongst the number.

Dancing by adults has been proved by experience and by Scripture to be injurious to the soul, and against the command of God. I shall never cease to warn both rich and poor against the folly of it. I shall never give the slightest heed to profession of religion, until the world and its follies (of which dancing is a part and parcel) shall have been given up.

Let serious readers look out for, and meditate upon the following texts of Scripture, viz.: Psa. 1:1; 90:12; 119:37. Prov. 4:14,16. Matt. 6:13,24; 16:24. Rom. 12:1,2. 1 Cor. 6:19,20; 10:31; 15:33. Eph. 5:8,16. 1 Thess. 5:22. 1 John 2:15.